This post is part of an interactive serial fiction experiment called “A March Story.” Reader contributions are marked as links. The questions between the sections are your opportunity to drive the story; click those to send me ideas. To learn more, read the Introduction. To tell me what you think or get involved, tweet me.
“I don’t give a good goddamn,” yells Harold Simmons. “Call the mayor’s office back and get a real quote!”
There are far too many of us crammed into this office. Harold is behind his desk at the computer. I am across from him seated next to Irma, a senior Metro reporter who writes copy in cursive on a legal pad. On the other side of me is Mr. Higgins, a lawyer. Behind us is another Metro reporter and at the door are two other editors. All of us together in this tiny space, breathing one another’s exhalations, serves as a great reminder that I am very hungover. I wrote all night, telling myself a shower and a coffee would fix me right up. It didn’t. I’m pretty sure I reek.
I’m also pretty sure none of these people care about how the digital intern smells. We are working on the story of the year.
“Do we have a quote from Dome Maintenance?” Harold shouts to the door.
A head pops in between the two editors. “Get this: Dome Maintenance refuses to deny the structural integrity of the Dome is compromised. No strong assertions, but they didn’t fight me on it.”
Harold shakes his head and taps a few more keys.
I missed much of this earlier in the morning as I was locked in a room with two detectives from the NYPD. Thankfully, the lawyer Higgins was with me the whole time. We’re old friends now.
“Irma, you got that text for me?” Harold asks.
He is shushed by the reporter behind me. “Let her write!” The reporter turns to the editors in the doorway. “Harold, of all people, should understand that questioning her comma usage, here, now, will only interrupt her flow.”
Irma — whose full name is Irmengard Germania Stout — is the wealthy heiress of Count von Notlessfewer’s Austrian fortune. No one in the newsroom cares about that. She’s famous for her ability to turn a Rubik’s Cube of text in all directions to unlock its potential.
Another head appears in the door. “All right, the mayor’s office says, ‘The Manhattan Dome is structurally sound. The Dome is well protected and under no threat of attack. The mayor personally rejects the scurrilous accusations of collusion with a radical group and encourages New Yorkers to carry on with their daily lives.”
Harold chuckles. “’Scurrilous,’ love their taste for the fatuous. Can you email that to me?”
“You got it, boss.”
He turns to the lawyer. “Higgins, where can I put the warning to stay indoors tomorrow? Can it be plain text?”
Higgins furrows his brow. “Better to leave it in a quotation.”
Harold types and Irma scribbles. She is working on one big block of text on her legal pad and occasionally stares at it like a painting on an easel. Suddenly her pen is a blur as she hunches entirely over it. Then she stands, hands it to Harold and says, “That’s your lede.”
“Thanks,” Harold says, taking it without looking up.
She pats my shoulder. “Good work. Great story.”
A new voice at the door: “Boss, I need more space on A1 for SCOTUS!”
Harold waves the petitioner away. “You got everything above the fold yesterday for Prop 8, not today.”
Harold carefully types in the text from the legal pad and then re-reads his work, mouthing the words as he goes. When he finishes he stares at the screen for ten more seconds, pushes his chair back and stands.
“All right, everybody. We publish in fifteen minutes. Now give me a few with Monica.”
Reporters and editors and Mr. Higgins all file out, and Harold stands to close the door behind them. I am very aware of the fact that the walls of his office are glass, and we are the objects of much attention.
Harold perches on the side of the desk. “Are you ready for this, Monica? This thing will get ugly.”
“The mayor’s office already has somebody on the way over here.”
“I can handle it.”
“I know you can. We’re behind you on this thing.”
All I want is to sit at my desk and rest. Between the marathon edit and three hours with the police, it’s been a long day already. When I left Clyde and Josiah last night I still couldn’t quite believe what they were planning. It wasn’t until I sat at my desk in the latest hours of the night listening to our conversation again that it really hit me. The mild sense of bewilderment was gone; only the need to furiously hammer out a rough draft remained.
I don’t quite make it halfway there when the yells reach me.
“There she is!”
I look to see Nate and two other suits pushing their way towards me through a group of Dispatch-ers.
Nate’s mouth is running at full volume. “You made the whole thing up!”
Harold appears at my side as Nate approaches. We’re at my desk, my sanctuary.
“Hi, I’m Harold Simmons. I’m the Editor of the Metro section. You’re from the mayor’s office?”
“You’re damn right I’m from the mayor’s office. He sent me here to stop you from printing those lies!”
Nate’s finger is dangerously close to Harold’s chest, but Harold’s patience is formidable. “We’re uploading the story right now. We’ve included a statement from your office.”
“It’s all bullshit!” Nate exclaims. The finger connects.
“Our reporter says it not and we stand by our reporters.”
“Your reporter is a liar!”
“You watch your tone, young man.”
Nate’s eyes go wide as he looks at me. He spins to the newsroom behind him. “She tried to sleep with me!”
“What?” I sputter.
“And I turned her down. So she made this all up!”
Someone actually starts laughing.
“You’re a real asshole,” I say quietly. My cell phone buzzes. It’s a phone call from a number I don’t recognize. I pick it up.
“Is it done?” Josiah asks in my ear.
I turn from Nate, cupping my hand over the phone. “Yes, we’re about to publish. Where are you? What number is this?”
“It’s a burner. You shouldn’t know where I am.”
“Who is that?” Nate demands, his voice rising.
“It’s famous mobster Bernie the Ball-sniffer,” a reporter responds.
“Is this seriously happening tomorrow?” I ask Josiah.
“Yes, tomorrow is a go.”
“Is that those lying Free Air radicals? Give me that phone!” Nate begins to grab, but another reporter blocks his hand.
I hear a voice in the background and the rustle of the phone being handed over. “Monica? This is Clyde. I wanted to thank you.”
“Are you sure you want to do this, Clyde?”
A hand suddenly appears at my cheek and knocks the phone to the ground. “You lying bitch!” Nate yells, his face finding its way to mine. His eyes seethe with rage and his hands are on my shoulders, gripping hard.
There are yells around us in the newsroom. In a blur, I’m released from Nate and he is sitting in the chair at my desk, forcibly placed there by Harold Simmons. Harold stands above him and spits, “You do not come into my newsroom and touch my reporter. You hear me? You will get the fuck out of here, immediately.”
I am resting my chin in the palm of my hand on my desk. The sun is long set and the chatter and beeps of the newsroom are the perfect white noise. My eyelids may occasionally be drooping downward, but I am still awake. I’m not going to sleep at my desk. I’m definitely awake. Just resting.
The story is published. Somewhere in the basement it is being committed to print. The mayor’s office is denying our reports and insisting to all New Yorkers that tomorrow will be perfectly safe to walk beneath the Dome. Television anchors present both sides as if the Dispatch and Bloomberg are in a political debate.
Meanwhile, I’ve become a popular lady. My phone, Twitter, and Facebook have exploded with well-wishings. Anna in Asheville has been chatting me once every five minutes.
I’m exhausted. But I’m still awake. Definitely not sleeping at my desk. Nonetheless, I startle when I hear a voice break through the white noise.
“I saw your story will be on the front page.” It’s Otis, the janitor.
My eyes flutter open. “Yes, thank you,” I mumble. I’ve definitely been awake this whole time.
Otis smiles. “I always find the best stories in the trashcan.”
“Do you think people will stay home tomorrow?” I ask him.
“Some will. Not everyone.”
“So what happens?”
He shrugs. “What always happens. We get through it. This city can get through anything. It’s New York.”
I hope you enjoyed the penultimate episode of A March Story. Episode 7 will be posted on Medium tomorrow. However, you can be a part of the writing process by joining me in a Google Doc today starting at 2pm ET!
Otherwise, you can tweet me anything you want to see included using the hashtag #marchstory.